Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it can almost seem like we’ve forgotten everything that came before it. But jog your memory all the way back to last fall, when a wave of mysterious illnesses had us all wondering: is vaping safe?
Obviously, so much has happened since then that it almost feels like ancient history. So we were surprised—and pleased!—when the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) recently adopted an emergency measure designed to help keep vaping safe. Here’s what we know, and what this might mean for the future of vaping!
Is Vaping Safe? A Mystery Solved
As we reported back in the fall of 2019, a frightening wave of what appeared to be a vaping-related illness caused several thousand cases of a serious respiratory condition (and several dozen deaths, including two in Washington State).
After several frustrating months of investigation, the CDC identified a common factor in the illnesses: An additive called “vitamin E acetate.” Vitamin E isn’t an issue in and of itself; in fact, it’s a powerful antioxidant that helps repair damaged cells.
Vitamin E acetate is typically added as a thickening agent in skin creams and topicals. The problems began when it was used by unlicensed black market vape manufacturers to improve the consistency of the cannabis concentrate in counterfeit vape cartridges. (See our article on how to spot such counterfeit products.)
However, while vitamin E acetate is safe (and even beneficial) in some regards, there’s one place it absolutely shouldn’t go: your lungs. That’s because it can remain there for significant lengths of time without breaking down or getting metabolized. As a result, even a little bit of vitamin E acetate exposure in your lungs is a big deal. That’s why it’s so important to stay away from vapes that use this ingredient whenever possible.
What is Vitamin E Acetate in Vaping?
Like the owners and staff of all legal, licensed dispensaries, we were incredibly relieved when the results of the investigation were announced last year. Whether it’s in the stringent safety checks all of our products undergo or the social-distancing protocols we follow, it’s no exaggeration to say that our customers’ and staff’s health and safety are our top priority. We don’t carry vape cartridges containing vitamin E acetate based on the known health risks of inhaling this product.
While the outbreak appears to be subsiding, it’s worth reading up on. The CDC maintains a webpage dedicated to sharing information about the respiratory illness, which goes by the acronym EVALI.
According to research, EVALI (which also sometimes goes by the name vaping associated pulmonary injury, or VAPI), features symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pains, gastrointestinal sickness, and difficulty breathing. These symptoms may become life-threatening. It may develop over a few weeks, or even as short as days.
Researchers remain convinced that vitamin E acetate causes EVALI. How do they know? Out of every sample researchers collected to conduct research on the condition, each and every one of them contained some amount of vitamin E acetate. For researchers, that’s more than just a coincidence: it looks like cause and effect.
It’s important to note that EVALI isn’t exclusive to cannabis vape products. Researchers noted that it occurred across a wide variety of vaping products. That includes nicotine vapes without any cannabinoids whatsoever.
So…where does that leave us with vitamin E acetate? In May 2020, we finally got the beginnings of an answer.
Is Vaping Safe? Banning Dangerous Additives
While both Governor Jay Inslee and the State Board of Health recommended an outright ban on vitamin E acetate, the Washington State legislature instead passed HB 2826, which granted the LCB the authority to ban any substance deemed a threat to public health.
But the LCB didn’t stop there. Spurred in part by concerns over public health, the LCB initiated protocols for testing all cannabis grown in the State of Washington to be tested for heavy metals and pesticides; the regulations will be phased in by September 2021.
While we’re glad that these new rules have been adopted, we think it’s been a long time coming. We believe that all cannabis should be free of contaminants, pesticides, and molds—that’s why we only partner with growers and producers who demonstrate their commitment to quality and purity.
That was a great first step. But it’s not the end of the story. In fact, it’s just the beginning.
Next, the big boys stepped in. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) itself has taken on the fight against EVALI. It required all tobacco products to submit samples for vitamin E acetate testing by September of 2020. Once testing concludes (expected sometime in September 2021), only products that pass will be able to find a place on store shelves.
While the FDA doesn’t regulate cannabis products–cannabis is still federally illegal, after all–all legal states require some kind of testing before products reach the public. Cannabis testing labs will likely adopt the FDA’s stance on a state-by-state basis. In fact, many states, including California and Washington, began requiring labs to test for vitamin E acetate as early as 2019.
How to Tell Whether You’re Buying a Safe Vape
All right, so we’ve covered a lot of info in this post. But the bottom line comes down to one question: how to tell whether you’re buying a safe vape pen or juice.
Fortunately, that’s a fairly easy question to answer. If you’re buying vape products from reputable sources, you’re already covered. Vitamin E acetate was mostly the result of counterfeit vape cartridges. As a result, shopping at legitimate, licensed dispensaries is the best way to avoid them.
Of course, you should always be suspicious. Whenever you’re about to try a new cannabis vaping product, check out its list of ingredients. If you spot vitamin E acetate anywhere on the product, steer clear.
With a little knowledge and preparation, you can keep yourself safe from counterfeit vape cartridges and their associated respiratory issues like EVALI.
We want you to enjoy our premium cannabis in good health and with peace of mind. Have questions or concerns? Let us know. We’re here to help!